Generally, there are three types of rivalries in the NFL: traditional, geographical and competitive.
Geographical rivalries gain steam primarily because the teams are located near each other, and each team's respective fans are rivals in other sports, such as with the Patriots-Jets and Packers-Vikings.
Atlanta and New Orleans are certainly traditional rivals. They played their first game against each other in 1967, and they've played each other at least twice a year since 1970. Neither team has played more games against another opponent.
They also have a geographical rivalry. They are the only two NFL teams located in what's traditionally referred to as the Deep South, and the cities are close enough to each other that fans from each side of the rivalry can travel in large numbers to both stadiums for games.
Their competitive rivalry is clear as well. Since 2008, the Saints and Falcons have been two of the better teams in the NFL. In recent years, the games between them have frequently come down to the wire. Due to those two facts, when they play each other, the rest of the league pays attention, and the games are relevant on a national level. Ask ESPN and NFL Network if you have your doubts.
Those three factors alone would arguably be enough to push the Falcons-Saints rivalry to the top of the list of the NFL's best rivalries. Their rivalry can make a strong case in each of the three categories we named.
However, the Falcons-Saints rivalry brings a fourth factor to the table that none of the aforementioned rivalries can contend with: the fans.
The fanbases of these two teams unite to form a diverse, passionate collection of enthusiasts that cannot be matched by any other NFL rivalry. You aren't going to find this kind of SEC football-like pageantry anywhere else because none of the NFL's other rivalries can engage the rabid football fans who live in the Deep South like this one can.
Over the years, the rivalry between the Falcons and Saints has featured personalities from Mike Ditka to Mike Vick. It has pitted the Falcants against the Aint's, those who say "whoadie" against those who say "shawty" and those who chant "Who Dat" against those who say "Rise Up."
If you've never attended a game between these two teams to understand what I'm referring to, I encourage you to add it to your football bucket list. The games almost never lack for excitement.
You can also be sure that when fans on both sides saw this matchup on the schedule for Week 1, they initially rejoiced before cursing the NFL schedule makers for putting them in position to have an anxiety attack the first week of the season.
The Saints have won 11 of the past 14 meetings in the series, but if you bring that up, Falcons fans will remind you that Atlanta posted a 16-6 mark in the 22 meetings before Sean Payton's arrival in 2006.
The constant back and forth between these two fanbases makes the fiercest political banter look civil, but that's what makes this rivalry what it is.
If you take away either fanbase from this equation, all you're left with is Bears-Packers, Steelers-Ravens or Patriots-Jets.
The Falcons and Saints are set to go at it again on Sunday. Here's to the fans who make this the NFL's best rivalry.
All historical references are made based on records found on Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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